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The Conviction of Cora Burns

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  753 ratings  ·  123 reviews
Set in 1880s Birmingham, Carolyn Kirby’s stunning debut The Conviction of Cora Burns tells the story of Cora, a young woman born in a prison to a convicted criminal she never knew but from whom she fears she has inherited a violent nature. Perfect for fans of Sarah Schmidt, Anna Mazzola and Hannah Kent.

Cora was born in a prison. But is this where she belongs?

Birmingham, 18
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 21st 2019 by No Exit Press
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Amalia Gkavea
‘’Cora Burns. Born to crime.’’

A young woman, named Cora Burns, hears the gates of Birmingham Gaol closing behind her. She is free from her incarceration but not from her past. A horrible dead has been haunting her for three years and doubts over her mother will not let her rest. Her chance comes when she starts working as a maid in the house of a scientist who hides his own secrets, feeding his own obsessions. In the search of her past, she needs to discover herself and this is the most terrify
Dec 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-lit-uk
The Conviction Of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby is a vivid and atmospheric historical novel set in the latter part of the 19th century.
We first meet Cora as she’s about to leave her employ as a laundry maid at Birmingham lunatic asylum.
The asylum stands within a forbidding group of buildings that also includes Birmingham Gaol and the workhouse.
Cora has desperately unhappy experiences of each institution, and she leaves with worries about her sanity. She’s plagued by violent impulses and half sub
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Conviction of Cora Burns is a remarkably accomplished debut from Carolyn Kirby, a gothic piece of atmospherical historical fiction set in the Birmingham of the Victorian era. She relates the story of Cora's life in a narrative that goes back and forth in time, born in prison to a convict, brought up in a workhouse where she forms a friendship with Alice, and works in a asylum. This is a dark and intense emotional roller coaster of a read, with a central character that is flawed and at times ...more
MaryannC. Book Freak
Shame on me because I pushed this aside at one point earlier in the year missing out finishing this great read, but it's done thankfully.
Set in Birmingham, England in the 1880's, just released from gaol for a heinous crime, Cora Burns takes a position as a servant in the home of Mr. Jerwood, a scientist conducting his own experiment of whether violence is an inherited trait. Cora is also searching for her lost sister, with a missing half of a medallion that she wears to go by on as she tries to
In her debut novel, Carolyn Kirby has set herself the ambitious task of handling multiple timelines and introducing the reader to a central character, Cora Burns, who at times exhibits both the best and worst aspects of human nature. However, to my mind, the author meets this challenge ably. True, the narrative, frequently shifting back and forth in time over the space of twenty years or so, requires some concentration from the reader but this effort will be amply repaid in my opinion.

The myster
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I'm not usually a lover of historical books apart from ones to do with the war, reading the blurb for this one though it really intrigued me and I knew I wanted to find out more about Cora's story. It didn't disappoint.

Needless to say that Cora didn't have the best start in life being born in gaol. Then to spend her childhood in a workhouse, I don't think things could be any worse. The story itself flicks between past and present so we can better understand and get to know Cora. I have to admit

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Deliciously dark and gorily gothic. Cora Burns. A favourite character of 2018 even though the book isn't out until 2019. Is that allowed? Yes it is as the book and Cora are so good.

What a fascinating read! Nature v nuture, experiments in laboratories, photographs which can maybe reveal your inner soul,and spooky things going on behind the walls of a seemingly respectable house.

This one has more twists and turns than a very very twi
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Now that’s what I call a Gothic Victorian Tale! Seriously dark, down right disturbing at times, full of atmosphere, grit, grime and suspense. From workhouses to gaols and insane asylums, it goes to all those terrifying places in Victorian history. I got completely lost in this; a cracking debut novel.
Ellen Gail
The only word I can think to describe this book is unpleasant.

This is a story about violence. Who does it and why - it's the whole nature vs nurture argument. Can someone who is instinctually incited to violence ever change? Can a single moment of violence define a life? Should it?

It's thematically interesting at least - identity, duplication, violence, memory. And the historical details seem to be well developed. My problems with the book are mainly character related. That's not to say there ar
Joanne Tinkler (Mamajomakes)
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Cora Burns has a burning violence within her that she struggles to control. Was she born with this emotion or has it developed from her environment? Born in a gaol and raised in a Union workhouse, Cora’s beginning is cold and unloving though she has her friend Alice who she is as close to as sisters are to one another. One day Cora and Alice commit a horrendous crime that lands Cora in confinement away from Alice, never to see her again. Fast forward around eighteen years we find Cora in a betwe ...more
Tracy Shephard
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rarely does a book come along that is so filled with intrigue, secrets and sadness that it makes your heart ache.

I absolutely loved The Conviction of Cora Burns, Cora is a fabulous character and I just loved getting to know her.

A tense and emotive read, I savoured every page and all too soon it was over.

Cora is a fiesty girl with heart, but her life with it's hard knocks and unfortunate circumstances makes her tough and untrusting. Her tragic and unfortunate existence was such a joy to read and
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A cracking historical fiction novel with a whiff of gothic, which of course, is always a plus point for me. I loved the main character Cora, even though she did have some disturbing and violent tendencies (and except for horrifying and inexcusable incident in her childhood) I felt she had a strong survival instinct and reacted badly due to this. After all, I imagine growing up in a Victorian workhouse would've been a dog eat dog environment to say the least. Some readers have found her unlikeabl ...more
Rachel Hall
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
An examination of nature vs nurture in Victorian Birmingham with a gritty and flawed protagonist.

Carolyn Kirby’s debut is historical fiction of the most satisfying kind, teeming with atmosphere and exquisitely rendered with a flawed, complex and fiercely determined protagonist. A multilayered narrative weaving back and forth between decades fits together like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle to illustrate one extraordinary young woman’s journey.

1885 and Cora Burns prepares to leave Birmingham Gaol
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels-set-in-uk
Novel set in Victorian BIRMINGHAM

‘Set in the 1880s in Birmingham, this is an atmospheric and gripping novel about a determined young woman who strives to overcome the hardship and violence that plagues her and the dark, fractured memories which haunt her. With a gritty setting, and a fantastic historical and social context, ‘The Conviction of Cora Burns’ explores themes of motherhood, mental illness, memories and the concept of nature versus nurture.’

October 1885. Cora, born in a gaol and raised
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a tough one for me to review. 3.5 stars. Well-researched historical novel, very atmospheric. Dark, gritty exploration of the underclass in Victorian England. Takes a look at nature vs. nurture through the main character's stay in a workhouse, an asylum, and a jail. I liked the lack of romance in the book. I appreciated the discussion of strength in a woman translating at that time into waywardness, even insanity. Women were locked up for depression and intense grief and for not following ...more
G.J. Minett
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oh wow! Read this on a strong recommendation from a friend whose opinion I respect - I was certainly not disappointed. Amazingly it's a debut novel but the quality of the writing is so assured that you'd never know it. It's not a crime novel in the traditional sense but it contains enough criminal behaviour to make the reader boil with rage. It's not a thriller either, the author preferring instead to draw us in through the beauty of the writing and the skill with which details are held back whe ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read a lot of historical fiction but I don’t think I’ve ever read one where the lead character affected me quite like Cora did. She was a character who I wasn’t sure about at the beginning, I had a combination of dislike and fear but gradually that changed and I wanted her to be accepted, find happiness and some answers and I adored her.

She was a character who despite her very hard life thought of others. Her loyalty to a few of the characters in this novel wouldn’t have been entertained
Liz Barnsley
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Intriguing, very dark gothic historical fiction, a great debut with some beautifully immersive writing. Maybe slightly over long.

Recommended for lovers of historical novels and crime. Full review to follow.
Mairead Hearne (
‘To believe in her future, she must uncover her past’

The Conviction of Cora Burns is the debut novel from Carolyn Kirby. Just published on 21st March by No Exit Press, it is described as ‘a stunning debut that takes the reader on a heart-breaking journey through Victorian Birmingham and questions where we first learn violence: from our scars or from our hearts’

Historical fiction is always a very informative genre but I think Carolyn Kirby takes it one step further as we explore the story of
Jessica B
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was just too compelling to put down once I started it. I think historical thriller is my second favorite genre after science fiction! This was a fantastic debut and I highly recommend it to other historical thriller lovers. I so enjoyed the nature VS nurture debate woven through the book and the commentary of classism. I received this book for review from the publisher.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant historical novel about a woman convicted of a terrible crime who seeks to unravel her own past to discover her true nature. Full review to follow as part of blog tour.
Mar 28, 2019 rated it liked it
I do love a book set where I live and so was eager to read it. For a debut, it was really, really good. There were some things in characterisation I thought could have been done a bit better, the second half dragged a bit in places, but you know, a solid, good debut and I hope she will write more.
Lel Budge
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written by Carolyn Kirby, The Conviction of Cora Burns is set in 1880’s Birmingham. Cora has had a difficult start in life after being born in a Gaol, then sent to the workhouse and as she grew up, at sixteen was sent to work as a laundress at the Asylum.

Her childhood friend, Alice Salt was a bad influence and many awful things happened, which Cora cannot fully recall. Cora ends up in Gaol herself for 19 months but when released I sent to work for the Jerwoods as a between maid. There she settle
Emily Ross
Thank you to the publishers for providing an ARC of this book through NetGalley.

Okay, I admit it, I requested this book because it's set in my home city. I really liked that it highlighted women in the Victorian era and how their strength was seen in a negative way and I really liked the contrast through the book of Cora and Violet as well as Cora and Cook.

However, there were bits that I skimmed, mainly because they were really boring and sometimes the flashbacks were quite confusing and I was
Abby Slater- Fairbrother
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Step into Victorian Birmingham and the life of Cora Burns. . .
If You Dare?

The Conviction Of Cora Burns, tells the life story of Cora Burns. We start with her humble beginnings, born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse. To Cora, eventually starting a position as a ‘between maid’ for Thomas Jerwood Esq. The novel spans 1874-1886, we get a real sense of who Cora was, is and who she intends to be, given the right chance.

The novel is beautifully written, the author brings alive industrial Birmingha
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved Cora... I wanted to and I did.  I know that some reviewers have found her sassy and violent and difficult to like as a main protagonist.  But I completely understand why she feels the need to be so.  At the end of the day, she's had no parents to bring her up and she's been housed, made to work, treated like dirt and threatened with violence.  She's also very much alone in the world with mixed influences around her, so I can't blame her too much for wanting to defend herself, every now a ...more
Sayantoni Das
The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby is a literary thriller set in the Victorian Era. This novel has surprised me beyond wits as it was from the very beginning when I started to gasp in bewilderment. Cora Burns is a woman who was born in a cell, known nothing of her estranged mother other than the fact that she was a criminal, and brought up in a workhouse under harsh circumstances. On her release from the Birmingham Gaol, she goes on an untiring search of her long lost sister Alice Sal ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was drawn to this due to the Birmingham historical setting and the intriguing subject matter. The age old nature/nurture debate is drawn in a different way through the story of Cora and those close to her. The book is dark and creepy in places with a real sense of place. However I did feel the ending was a little rushed.

Thank you to Netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
I LOVED this! a brilliant book which looks at insanity and psychology in the victorian period. is insanity hereditary or is it a reaction to our surroundings? mix this with photography, and how there is a likeness in certain criminals, and you’ve got a fantastic book that looks a social and cultural issues of birmingham in the victorian period!
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Set in Victorian Birmingham. Nature or nurture? That is the question that runs through this book. I found it interesting and entertaining
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Carolyn Kirby's debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was published in the UK and North America. It was chosen by The Times as an historical fiction book of the month and went on to be long-listed for the Historical Writers Association debut crown award.
Carolyn's second novel When We Fall is published in the UK in May 2020.
Originally from the northeast of England, Carolyn studied history at St

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